Case Study: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Arts
Hitchhikers offered a group of participants who would normally not attend arts events the opportunity to attend five events across a range of art forms: theatre, cultural cinema, visual arts, opera and music. Participating venues were asked to support their attendance by creating a welcoming experience and offering tours, talks and expert presentations.
Initial targeting was via postcodes that had been identified as super output
areas and areas of low arts attendance. Applicants were sought using the help of community centres, community workers and charities. The identified participants were then invited to apply, with the resultant group of 26 core participants being made up of older people, people in sheltered or homeless accommodation, people from areas of economic deprivation and people who didn’t speak English as a first language. To make it less daunting, people were invited to apply in pairs.
Event 1 Theatre: Philadelphia Here I Come! at Lyric Theatre
Event 2 Cultural Cinema: ‘Her’ Dir. Spike Jonz at Queens Film Theatre
Event 4 Opera: Verdi’s Aida at Belfast Waterfront.
Event 5 Music: Ulster Orchestra
Event 6 Closing Event: Voting, quiz and awards night, with a chance for participants to give their feedback
Hitchhikers arrived up to 90 minutes before the start of the performance to receive their introduction. This generally involved an interactive discussion about what to expect and information about the performance and venue. If this couldn’t happen, for any reason, the participants also had information sheets containing all this information so they would always feel prepared.
At the end of the project, they voted for their favourite venue and performance and gave feedback to each venue. Venues were then contacted with their awards and feedback.
The majority of the 26 core participants reported that they had more confidence in re-attending the arts, and said that attending with other first-timers helped to alleviate their fears of being ‘laughed at’ or ‘caught out’, making them feel more comfortable in situations where they would expect to be looked down upon. In short, the project removed one of the key barriers of attendance- the psychological assumption of not fitting in.
Participants reported a change in attitude, with one saying that “art can be for me” and another commenting that “art feeds the soul”. Each attender had a preferred artform and venue, and at the end of the project voted for their favourite. Their feedback was then reported to venues, helping create a sense of involvement in the arts. The development of being open to appreciating the arts was an important legacy for participants, and their feedback was an valuable insight for venues on how to attract and appeal to audiences that generally don’t attend.
Working with venues
- Every venue should be thoroughly briefed about the project.
- Work more closely with venues to make participants feel welcomed.
- The welcome/introduction experience should be standardised to create overall consistency for participants.
- Secure and confirm all events before recruiting participants to ensure they are free to attend on those times and dates.
- Some venues challenged the request for so many free tickets, which was at times up to 35. More discussion should be held beforehand to ensure venue ownership of the project.
Communicating with Participants
- Keeping video and photo logs of this project didn't suit participants who didn't want to be photographed.
- Initial information was collected via a form. Some participants had literacy issues so this was often filled in by staff over the phone.
- Having a consistent contact point was beneficial in ensuring participant satisfaction through ongoing communication.